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Decade on Biodiversity: Ensuring earth’s resources for present and future generations

 

 

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By Yasmin Roselle O. Caparas

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n May 30, 2011, President Benigno S. Aquino III and Dr. Ahmed Djoghlaf, United Nations (UN) Assistant Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), launched the UN Decade on Biodiversity for Southeast Asia in simple ceremonies at the Malacañang Palace. On hand to witness the event were Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) Executive Director Rodrigo Fuentes, and members of the diplomatic corps from the ASEAN region.


What is the UN Decade on Biodiversity?


The UN Decade on Biodiversity was declared by the UN General Assembly in response to a recommendation made during the tenth meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the CBD in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture in Japan. This meeting, known as the COP-10, was held on October 18-29, 2010 and was attended by more than 16,000 participants representing 193 parties and their partners.

The Decade supports and promotes the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including the five strategic goals, which have 20 targets, known collectively as the Aichi targets. The goals are to:

(1) address underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society;
(2) reduce direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use;
(3) improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity;
(4) enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and
(5) enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity-building.

The Decade also aims to guide regional and international organizations and raise public awareness of biodiversity issues through communication, education and awareness, appropriate incentive measures, and institutional change.

To achieve its goals, the UN encourages target actors to carry out and coordinate actions supporting the Strategic Plan, strengthen their networks for the implementation of the CBD, and increase efforts to mainstream biodiversity considerations in medium- and long-term priorities. Such actors include the National Focal Points; UN agencies and programs; regional, international, and civil society organizations; business; children and youth; indigenous, local and scientific communities; media, and other stakeholders. 

Local adoption of the Decade on Biodiversity

In his speech during the launching of the UN Decade on Biodiversity for Southeast Asia, President Aquino underscored the role of the Philippines and the ASEAN region as “crucial components to the global sustainability and stability of the environment.” Although the region occupies only three percent of the earth’s total surface, it is habitat to a cornucopia of plant and animal life, and a haven for 18% of all such known species. 

Decade2-webAccording to DENR Secretary Paje, the Philippines is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, playing host to thousands of endemic species of reef fishes, birds, corals, and plants.  Citing the country’s megadiversity, as well as its being a founding Member State of the UN and a party to the CBD, Paje said the President has issued Presidential Proclamation No. 178, declaring the years 2011-2020 as the National Decade on Biodiversity in the Philippines. Under the proclamation, all branches and agencies of the government are to initiate activities to promote the Decade on Biodiversity, in coordination with the DENR. “The President also mandated the DENR to establish a national task force to plan and implement the activities, and submit reports to the Office of the President on a regular basis,” Paje added.
 

 
Malacañang’s Heritage Tree

As the Office of the President’s own contribution to the activities marking the National Decade on Biodiversity in the Philippines, President Aquino and Dr. Djoghlaf also unveiled a commemorative marker declaring a strangler fig tree (Balete) in Malacañang as a “heritage tree” under the DENR’s Heritage Tree Program.

Decade3-webAccording to the DENR chief, who is also a licensed forester, the balete tree is indigenous to the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, Southern China and India, and is found in thickets and forests at low to medium altitude. It starts as a small plant that usually grows on top of a tree through bird droppings. The balete eventually grows around the host tree which it strangles and kills, leaving a cavity in the middle.

 

Philippine folklore is replete with stories about balete, believed to be a dwelling of supernatural beings.  But, the balete tree (scientific name: Ficus concinna Miq) in Malacanang is particularly known for its single giant resident, a half-human-half horse or kapre to Filipinos, and is known to Malacanang employees as Mr. Brown.  This balete tree is said to be over a hundred years old and has been a mute witness to the unfolding events in the country’s rich history.
 

Today, it stands as a massive canopy that provides a cool shade from sun and rain to the different dignitaries and personalities who visit Malacañang, as well as a habitat for various small wildlife.
 

Sources: ACB, CBD and OP materials

® Public Affairs Office

 

 

Sec. Ramon JP Paje: Providing a fresh air in environmental management

 

 

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There's one indivisible environment, so forester-turned-Environment Secretary Ramon Paje says there's no choice but to make the air, water and land cleaner. 

(By Joel C. Paredes - "Marching Orders" - Reprinted from Business Mirror, September 12, 2010)


T
ake it from Environment Secretary Mon Paje: it’s not yet too late for the government to redeem itself.

No, he’s not talking politics, nor is he ranting to the point that it looks embarrassing. He just wants to emphasize how President Aquino wants our people to help clean our air and water, and the government, for that matter, and by so doing make a better environment for all.

“Dapat ang hinihinga nating hangin patas, mahirap ka man o mayaman [We should all be breathing equally clean air, whether we’re rich or poor],” he said in a recent interview. “But what’s happening is this: those in jeepneys breathe in 270 micrograms; while those in air-conditioned rooms inhale 90 micrograms,” he added, referring to the parts-per-million carbon-dioxide levels in the air.

And that is a problem, he added, because at 90 micrograms, the air is already dangerous to one’s health. In Metro Manila alone, the average air pollution gauge is already 134; and where it’s cooler, like Baguio, where the air doesn’t move as much, the pollution can be far worse.

It is a matter that has not been kept from the President, who is driven around the metropolis practically each day of the week.

The President is not only concerned with noise pollution caused by wang-wang (sirens) but also by the air that is saddled by suspended particulates that attack every man, woman and child in the unwieldy metropolis. 

The poor suffer more

THEN the environment’s chief steward  opens a bottle of water, and says that we’re just lucky we can have a choice of potable water. “But if you live in the slums, your inline supply comes from a creek. You shower with polluted water,” he said.

And yet, he rued, access to clean water is supposed to be a fundamental human right, decreed by the United Nations (UN).

He then made a bold declaration: the environment agenda of the Aquino government is  the most “propoor and [the most] gung-ho for equitable distribution,”  so all people can somewhat enjoy the same high quality of air and water that the rich do. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) can be a “good equalizer” in attaining this goal.

With the high price of air-conditioning and bottled water, he feels the current situation is highly inequitable.

He wants to correct this, and believes all the laws are already in place for him to do just that. He knows where the right buttons are.

At 49, Paje is not taking it from his experience in the department, which got him through school via a scholarship in forestry at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB). Then he started working there.

From a casual employee, he labored through the years to become the DENR secretary. He must know his way around.

According to Paje, he has placed as top priority the target of attaining clean air and water on orders of the President, who remains convinced that the time to protect the environment is now. 

Dirty air chokes us all

Barely two months as head of the DENR, Paje says he is convinced there was serious cumulative neglect through the decades in addressing air pollution in urban centers nationwide.

While local governments are supposed to implement the Clean Air Act, the DENR remains to be the overall coordinator for this priority program of President Aquino.

The fast-increasing number of cars in the urban areas is no excuse, in his view, because  they addressed the problem in Europe and most of the developed countries.

“The government is supposed to require the testing of all vehicles before you register, but irregularities in the system have stalled it,” he sighs.

“Look at the PETCs [private emission-testing centers]. The problem is there is P6-billion corruption there. You pay P600 and you no longer have to test your car, but you still get a certificate that it’s clean,” he complains.

Eighty percent of the air-pollution problem is not from factories, but from vehicles, he says.

Then he cites the problem with sanitation, from where most diseases spring. “Can you imagine that this is the only country where thousands are dying from dengue [fever]? In other countries you don’t have dengue anymore, nor do they have a problem with malaria,” he adds with horror.

“There’s really no equality. If you’re poor, you’re bound to die from disease. If you’re rich, you can have aircon rooms and be free of mosquitoes in your home,” Paje says, blaming the clogged and dirty esteros in many cities and municipalities. 

Getting it done

“It’s really a question of discipline,” says Paje.

He has already met several times with Land Transportation Office (LTO) executives, who were receptive to the idea of addressing smoke belching in urban centers.

In the case of water, he says unabated littering caused pollution. This, even though Republic Act 9003, the Solid Waste Management Act, provides that anyone arrested for throwing trash in the waterways and river systems must undergo community service for a minimum of one day to a maximum of 15 days, and/or penalty ranging from P300 to P1,000.

Paje says that was supposed to have been implemented in 2001, but they have not had strict instructions from the President to implement the law.

Enforcement, he stresses, is really the task of local governments when it comes to solid-waste management.

Yet the DENR chairs the Solid Waste Management Commission, and he is now meeting the local executives to pass local ordinances and implement the law.

In the metropolis, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has promised to hire thousands of so-called litterbugs who would help clean communities, and ensure that violators are apprehended. Penalties that the LGUs collect can be paid to people that they deputize, he adds. 

Onward, environmental soldier

TAKING charge of the environmental infantry, Paje thinks iron discipline and political will must see the campaign winning.

As President Aquino’s pointman, he is willing to forgo the cash that comes from penalties, if only to encourage the MMDA footmen and all those enforcers from Metro LGUs to do the job, with DENR content with whipping the litterbugs into line by cleaning up their mess.

Indeed, he is asking the MMDA and the LGUs to get the earnings from the fines, but he reserves the right to use the services of the cashiered violators to clean up, pick up not only the litter but also put some sense and concern into their brains.

It’s a maximum 15 days of community service for litterbugs, and Paje wants them to serve time, seriously, by showing good behavior and spreading the news that getting caught is not only a cause of shame but an opportunity to repent.

He may well say that the MMDA and the LGU guys can get the cash with proper receipts, but the DENR should accumulate the trash for proper disposition.

Still, he stresses he won’t condone harassment, meaning, there must be evidence before anyone penalizes citizens. Those who “plant” trash and pick on people may well get the boot. 

Wasteland no more

On the issue of the deteriorating condition of forest land and farming areas, Paje laments the fact that of the country’s 30 million hectares, 15.8 million hectares are forests.

“But actually, out of the 15.8 million hectares, 8 million are considered denuded, degraded areas. There’s nothing there. Useless. Denuded. Grassland. When you fly over these areas, you’ll see nothing but a vast, open wasteland,” he sighs, speaking partly in Filipino.

He says the President worries that it’s as if we have become a country of masochists, destroying our environment and deriving pleasure from it. In contrast, our ASEAN neighbors do everything to green their country.

He cites Malaysia, where a five-hour drive from the causeway of Singapore to the Malaysian interior would show just many plantations that country has. Even one sleeps for five hours during the trip, one would still end up seeing rubber and palm-oil plantations.

“But the total area in Malaysia for plantations is only 4 million hectares or 4.2 million hectares. Malaysia has been declaring an income of between 42 billion and 45 billion ringgits from these plantations per year,” Paje notes.

“We have so much rubber. We have almost 8,000 hectares in Basilan. My point is, if we can make this land productive through my partnership with Agriculture Secretary Procy [Proceso’s nickname] Alcala, then we will be better off,” he argues.

Paje wants the remaining 8 million hectares of virtual wasteland to earn money, adding that in Mindanao, a hectare of land can earn P120,000 per year. For a banana plantation, that’s almost P200,000 per hectare, per year.

“If I can make this 8 million hectares earn just even P10,000 per hectare, per year, how much is that? If I can make it earn P10,000 per hectare, per year times 8 million hectares, that is a whopping P80 billion per year. You put it in the economic mainstream. Additional income and revenue of the Filipino people,” he argues emphatically.

Paje wants these areas of environmental degradation to be productive, not subject to unimpeded denudation and erosion. These tracts of land must be productive or we go bust, he asserts. 

Bring in capital

He is unfazed by the recurrent failures of programs meant to shore up the dying uplands, and says this has been happening since the government has been eating more than it can chew.

If the government is resource-poor, then it must not do things on its own.

Paje says tunnel vision, or seeing the trees but not the forest, is the culprit. “That is one failure, somehow, of the government. You award, as with CARP [Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program]. So with CARP, you give the farmer 5 hectares of land. The government says, ‘I’ll give you 5 hectares of land.’ The government seems to have this formula that if you have 5 hectares, you should become rich by all means. You have no reason to be poor. What happened to the Philippines? People got 5, or 3 hectares. Did farmers become rich? No way. That [getting rich] won’t happen until you integrate [the whole program],” he argues.

It is not only asset reform that matters, Paje admits, but making the beneficiaries productive by supporting them with capital, or helping them make the asset more productive.

Even if, say, 1,000 hectares of mango plantations produce a lot of the fruit, what matters is that there must be factories that churn out products with higher value-added to gain more markets.

Paje notes the DENR has been giving away big tracts of land, from 2,000 to 10,000 hectares, for community-based forest management, telling the community to manage the land and make it earn. “But then, people weren’t given capital.”

“Until now, the farmers to whom we gave upland farms remain barefoot, they can’t buy rubber shoes. We gave 10,000 hectares already,” Paje says.

“Because we are not really supporting them. There’s financial capital. To develop 1,000 hectares of plantations, you’ll need substantial capital. But the government didn’t give this,” he claims.

He envisions a tighter partnership between communities of producers and processors, as when a village engaged in durian culture matches the requirements of a food company; or when a rubber factory looks for a stable supply that a community can provide.

This business matching has not been done and it is time for the government to be seriously involved in making the growers and the manufacturers agree on a sound, long-term collaborative scheme. 

Whipping them into line

Paje believes that mining companies should be good corporate citizens, and adds they can be good sources of revenue, “if we can make everyone behave.

”Meanwhile, he has served notice that he would no longer tolerate illegal logging, a serious matter for someone trained in forestry and forest management.

“I just signed an order last week…. I will not sign any logging permit under my incumbency, so many of them are worried now,” he adds.

He is not really opposed to logging per se, and delineates what activities should be encouraged and what should be barred forever.

“First, you have to know what is selective logging…. There are two types of logging, clear-cutting and selective logging. Clear-cutting means you cut an entire block. For example, this is 1,000 hectares, you divide it into 10 blocks. You cut in this area, and you plant in another area. Then, you clear-cut it, and next year plant on it. Clear-cut this other portion, so at any one time, 10 percent is deforested, 90 percent forested. It’s a very good system,” he explains.

For selective logging, one may harvest the trees that are “mature, overmature and defective. One gets only the big ones. In plantations where you have clear-cutting, that’s called even stand. The trees there have a uniform height. In the natural forest, there are big ones, there are second-growth and third-growth [trees]. There are saplings and seedlings.

”Selective logging is the type of harvesting applied to natural forests like the Philippines; for instance, “selective logging is possible in Aurora, but not in Quezon. That is the selective logging we know.

”However, selective logging in uneven forest stands has also paved the way for abuse, and Paje admits that the timber-harvesting system in the country has so deteriorated that it ushered in massive denudation.

While timber companies cut the mature and overmature trees, “the reality is that when the logs are in the streets, the community follows. When the community follows, particularly the employees of the logging concessions—they will use up everything, because they need space to plant crops. So, now they do what we call slash-and-burn agriculture. They cut and clear...[to have an] open area for corn, rice, upland rice, etc. The forest will never return.

”Paje has made a bold stand on the matter and says he has the blessings of the highest levels of power.

“No. 1, I am not going to allow logging in the natural forest anymore. Never. I will not sign. Leave the forest as natural. If you want to harvest wood, you plant. Anyway, we have 8 million hectares of open, denuded and degraded areas. So, I will only allow harvesting in the plantations. If you planted it, you harvest it,” he says.

Paje calls this ban an “administrative log ban” and notes that a bill on logging ban has been submitted thrice to Congress and thrice bypassed.

Word is now out that no DENR official will process any application for logging. No such application will ever reach Paje’s desk. 

Unprotected

In the battle against illegal logging, forest rangers are getting a beating, and the ratio is one forest guide for every 3,000 hectares. “In the US each forest ranger has to handle 500 acres,” he adds.

It means that the ratio leaves much of the uplands open to the usual culprits, particularly those who have degraded the forests.

For the 3,000 forest rangers to guard 15 million hectares is a tall order, and the problem has been compounded by the ban on the hiring of new rangers.

Moreover, the average age of foresters is 58, with others approaching mandatory retirement age, raising the specter of the country being left with a dangerously low number of forest defenders.

Nonetheless, Paje has been deputizing local officials and community residents to promote forest protection and somehow provide a shield to the depleted forests, the fount of biodiversity and the cradle of our natural wealth.

His passion is the forest, and for good reason.

In his view, “if we protect the forest, automatically we protect biodiversity. It’s a question of habitat, right? Species become extinct only if there is no habitat. But if you protect their habitat, you automatically protect the species.

”As a career DENR official, Paje has served about a dozen secretaries before he took over the helm of the department.

He was a Ten Outstanding Young Men awardee in 1996, largely on account of his achievements in forest protection and his campaign to defend the stewards of the environment.

He has seen many forest defenders come and go, some of them killed in the line of duty, leaving behind children without breadwinners and forcing him and many individuals, institutions and corporations to join hands in putting up scholarships to see these orphans through college.

Many of them are now foresters, like Paje, and they are not only out to perpetuate the good deeds of their fathers but also to sustain the program for a clean environment enunciated by President Aquino.

"Sabi ng pangulo, ‘Tayo ang simula ng pagbabago’.
In this department we would like to inculcate that, and we should be the source of reform,” he says.

 

 

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